Step 5 for Employees Providing Feedback to a Manager: Identifying what the feedback is and when to give the feedback
On to step 5 of giving feedback to your manager: Identifying the feedback and doing the final preparation for the feedback! If you want to give feedback to a manager, you have to make sure you have engaged in step 1 (prepare and start a log) , step 2 (give positive feedback on the behaviors you do like), step 3 (set up a contract for when the manager wants feedback) and step 4 (talk to HR). If not, you are taking some risks that your feedback may backfire. That is, your manager could be resistant to the feedback, not trust your feedback, could directly or indirectly engage in recrimination over time.
Yes, giving feedback to your manager is a risk, and no, it’s not fair that managers could engage in some bad behaviors solely on you trying to give them feedback! The emerging field of Management Design needs to address this design flaw of Managers engaging in immature and recriminating behaviors based on an employee trying to help the manager improve, but until then, here’s an approach to take to get that much needed feedback to your manager.
OK, assuming you have a log of observations of behavior, you have already started giving positive feedback where it is merited, and have contracted for that moment and you have discussed your plans to talk with your boss with HR, where you might want to give corrective feedback, here are some options for your next move:
1. Analyze your log to make sure that you know which feedback you’d like to prioritize.
The Manager by Designsm blog chronicles many of the behavioral mistakes managers make. There are so many more that any given manager may make that sometimes it’s hard to keep track of them all. So look at your log, and analyze it to make sure that you know which item and which area you want to give feedback on. Choose the #1 behavior you’d like to change. Yes, only one. We’re taking baby steps here given the risks. For example, it may be “giving public feedback” when giving specific feedback would be better.
2. Wait for your manager to ask you for feedback
One of the advantages of giving positive reinforcement on the behaviors you do like is that the manager a) knows you’re paying attention, and b) starts to value your opinion on how things are going and c) trusts your opinion more. But only if it has been specific positive feedback like, “I like that you provided Jim the specific feedback on his being fully present at meetings. He has stopped checking his messages and has increased his participation and we have had more crisp action items after the meetings.” Sycophantic feedback like, “You’re the best boss in the world” does not create this increased attentiveness, value and trust. In fact, it creates the opposite.
But assuming you have earned this higher degree of authority, the manager may — just may — ask your opinion on how things should be done differently! The manager may approach you! Yeah!
3. Set up the context for feedback that you agreed to earlier
OK, just because the manager approached you, don’t just jump out and say your thoughts if you can avoid doing this. Remember that you specifically created a contract with the boss on how the manager wants to receive feedback. You have to stick to this contract. If you have previously agreed to provide feedback to your manager during your one-on-one meeting, you can say something to the effect of, “Let me think about it and when we meet during our 1 on 1, I’ll provide my thoughts on how things could be done differently.”
4. Tell your manager that you’d like to give some feedback – and when
OK, so it may be too much to assume that the manager actually approaches you for the feedback, but it was worth a shot, huh? If the manager doesn’t, and you feel like you have earned the trust and authority to give the feedback, then you can still move forward. I recommend that you tell your manager in advance, informally or over email, or even as an agenda item during your one-on-one conversation, that you’d like to provide some feedback on the topic that you have strategically chosen to discuss. You could also frame it as a “discussion on how to improve. . . (meeting management, improving team cohesion, etc.).”
5. Practice the conversation with a trusted colleague
This last step could be the most important. Think about it: you have earned the right to give specific feedback to your manager on what you would like the manager to do differently. Don’t blow it! I recommend actually practicing the feedback conversation with a trusted co-worker (preferably someone who doesn’t have general hatred toward your boss, but someone, like you, who is sincerely engaged in a project to improve your boss’s behavior). When you practice with your co-worker, ask your colleague to respond positively and negatively, but, don’t waste your collective time being over-dramatic.
The practice will help because it will help you set up the conversation, solidify the examples, identify what the impact is, solidify what the preferred new behaviors could be, and set up the next feedback conversation. The idea isn’t to play around, but to sharpen your focus and wording and to prepare yourself for the twists and turns likely to happen during the conversation. You’ve done a lot of good work to get to this point, some practice for the actual conversation could get you to the readiness you need for it to be a success.
In my next article, we’ll discuss the actual conversation. Are you ready?
What have you done to prepare for a conversation with your manager where you wanted to correct the behavior of the manager? What has worked? What didn’t work? Has your manager ever asked you for feedback directly?